Opinion | Border detention is not mass murder
“Concentration camps.” In the vernacular of the United States, home to nearly half the world’s Jews, the phrase conjures horrors of Nazi gas chambers and work camps. As it should. We must never forget.
“The United States is running concentration camps on our southern border, and that is exactly what they are — they are concentration camps — and if that doesn’t bother you,” said U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., throwing up her hands while conducting a live Instagram session from her Washington home Monday.
We get it, AOC. The border problem bothers us. Few Americans want concentrations camps on the border or anywhere else.
Of course, we have no such thing. Rather, we have a humanitarian crisis at the border and limited resources for addressing it. That is because we do not control the border. In this negligence, we become an attractive nuisance for people who understandably envy our way of life.
Some of the detention facilities are too harsh for the standards of a compassionate, civilized country. We should improve them immediately as we invest in better border security.
Congress and the president should fix the immigration crisis so we do not have mass detention facilities overpopulated with people seeking work visas and asylum. It is long past time for our political class to end the chaos with better border control and logical immigration policies that serve our needs.
None of that means the United States has “concentration camps,” in terms of the connotation AOC exploited.
Some of the mainstream national press corps, which treats Cortez AOC like the resurrection of Elvis, has been quick to defend her.
“The term (‘concentration camps’) can also refer to sites that have been holding pens, such as for the Japanese in this very country at the same time that Jews were being murdered in Europe,” explains an article in The Atlantic.
Other defenders likewise offer dictionary definitions of “concentration camp” to insist AOC is technically correct. In other words, do not fault the congresswoman because some concentration camps are better than others. It is a ridiculous defense.
Make no mistake: AOC used the comparison to leverage America’s repulsion with genocide, not to suggest our detention facilities are merely “holding pens.”
To understand the insulting nature of her comparison, start with the fact no one — not one single Jew — embarked on a grueling personal journey to break into a concentration camp. Neither did the Japanese, when we interned them during World War II. People do not transport themselves to concentration camps.
Most immigrants at the southern border took extraordinary measures, making great personal sacrifices, to reach our border and face the high risk of detention. No one dragged them from their homes. They could have avoided this fate by simply staying home or turning around. They preferred the risk of enduring detention, where they could pursue legal access to this great country.
Compare that to the concentration camps that provide the dark image AOCCortez tried to convey. Nazis went looking for Jews. They captured them and forced men, women and children to work until they died. The average life expectancy was about five days.
By 1942, Nazis did not bother much with deadly labor camps. They forced Jews into cattle cars at gunpoint. Schutzstaffel troops stripped these innocent prisoners naked and gassed them with diesel engine emissions or Zyclon B pesticide.
Those who witnessed these murders, and lived to recount them, tell of slow, torturous deaths. Nazis administered gas in such low concentrations people died over the course of 20 to 40 minutes or more. A website of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum describes fingernail scratches left on gas chamber walls by people fighting for their lives.
When immigrants journey to our borders, in numbers too great to process or adjudicate in a timely fashion, border agents provide them with food, shelter and clothing. They try to keep them healthy and alive, as opposed to murdering them on the orders of a dictator. Torturing these detainees, or even neglecting them, constitutes a felony.
Yes, we can and should do better at the border. All American detention facilities should be humane, most especially those holding noncriminal immigrants seeking admission to the country. Even convicts on death row deserve the dignity of food, shelter, clothing, health care and compassion.
Cortez AOC and others concerned about immigrants can and should advocate for better conditions. They can and should fight for an immigration system that works for our country and those striving to live here.
Meanwhile, no one should misallocate symbols of the Holocaust for expedient political gain. We must never forget, and never downplay, the brutal and systematic murders of more than 6 million innocent Jews.
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